The Collected Letters, Volume 2


JBW TO THOMAS CARLYLE; 17 January 1822; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18220117-JBW-TC-01; CL 2:19-21.


[ca. 17 January 1822]

I have read the Tragedies—I thank you for them— They are Byron's. Need I praise them. I have also read your eloquent history of Faust— For it too I thank you. It has fewer faults and greater merits than its Author led me to expect— I have moreover read your letter— For it I do not thank you— It afforded me neither pleasure nor amusement— Indeed, my Friend this letter of yours has, to my mind, more than one fault— I do not allude to its being egotistical— To speak of one's self is, they say, a privilege of Friendship, and I have seen too much of Mr Carlyle to expect that Friendship should have any privileges of which he would not avail himself. But there is about it an air of levity which I dislike. Which seems to me to form an unnatural union with the other qualities of your head and heart, and to be illtimed in treating of a subject, to you the most important of all subjects—your own destiny. In a Statesman venturing the hopes of his ambition on one decisive stroke— In a Soldier rushing to the Battle to conquer or to die, I might admire the spirit of gay daring with which you seem to have been animated; But in a man sitting quietly in his chamber contemplating years of labour, unattended with any danger (For I do not see that it is incumbent on you to “perish” because you fail in writing a good Novel, good Tragedy, or good any thing else) years of labour the result of which may be neither certain good, nor certain evil, it seems to me, such a spirit is unnatural and ridiculous— Besides this there is about your letter a mystery which I detest— It is so full of meaning words underlined—meaning sentences half finished, meaning blanks [blanks underscored twice] with notes of admiration—and meaning quotations from foreign languages that really in this abundance of meaning it seems to indicate I am somewhat at a loss to discover what you would be at. I know how you will excuse yourself on this score—you will say that you knew my Mother would see your letter, and that, of course you cared not to what difficulties I, as Interpreter, might be subjected, so that you got your feelings towards me expressed. Now Sir, once for all, I beg you to understand that I dislike as much as my Mother disapproves your somewhat too ardent expressions of Friendship towards me; and that if you cannot write to me as to a Man who feels a deep interest in your welfare—who admires your talents—respects your virtues, and for the sake of these has often—perhaps too often—overlooked your faults— If you cannot write to me as if—as if you were married you need never waste ink or paper on me more.

Alles für Ruhm und Ihr” [“All for glory and her” ]!!— On my word, most gay and gallantly said— One would almost believe the man fancies I have fallen in love with him, and entertain the splendid project of rewarding his literary labours with myself. Really Sir I do not design for you a recompense so worthless. If you render yourself an honoured member of societ[y] (and it seems to me that the pursuit of literary fame is, from the talents you possess, an easy—and, from the manner of life you have adopted, an only way of raising yourself from obscurity into the estimation of the wise and good) I will be to you a true, a constant, a devoted friend—but not a Mistress—a Sister—but not a Wife— Falling in love and marrying like other Misses is quite out of the question— I have too little romance in my disposition ever to be in love with you or any other man; and too much ever to marry without love— Were I a man I would not wait till others find your worth to say, in the face of the whole world, I admire this man and choose him for my friend— But I am a woman Mr Carlyle—and what is worse a young woman— Weakness, timidity and bondage are in the word— But enough of this—why do you force me into such horrid explanations?

You pass very hurriedly from the most important topic in your letter, judging from the little you say of this Tutorship, I think your friends if they had set about making a situation for you, could not have contrived one more desirable— “If you accept it?”— I have no right to interfere in your private arrangements—but surely this ‘If’ is a very ungrateful word!—

You propose coming here— As I do not presume to forbid this house to any one whom my ‘excellent Mother’ invites, the matter, I grieve to say, rests with yourself. As you neither study my inclinations, nor consider my comfort, it is in vain to say how much I am averse to your intended visit, and to how many impertinent conjectures it will, at present, subject me, in this tattling, illnatured place— I leave it then to yourself to accomplish it, or not, as you please—with this warning that if you come, you will repent it. I expected that the tasks I assigned you in my last would have stood me instead of Penelope's Web1 for a while— But I was a fool to expect peace— Patient sufferance I begin to find, is the first lesson to be learned by one of the parties in a Romantic Friendship. My Mother knows nothing of your projected visit. She did not see your letter. We were in bad humour with each other when it came, and as, in spite of your precautions, and the handsome adjective with which you ushered in your intention of visiting her it seemed to me nowise calculated to improve her temper, I seized the opportunity which a fit of Pet afforded me of laying it aside without showing it— If she had seen it I am pretty sure her friendship for you would have formed but a brief episode in the history of her affections. If you are so unlucky as to determine on coming, it will be necessary for you to write ag[a]in and mention your intention as for the first time— (To what pitiful evasions do you reduce me!) As I do not take the Pet every night no future letter of yours may escape like your last[;] I beg therefore that you will make no particular allusion to any part of this letter; for tho' my Mother knows that I am writing to you she must not see it— I trust however that your Good Genius will lead you to make one effort of self denial. In that case I shall be glad to hear from you some weeks hence. Earth Air and Sea surely afford subjects enough for a letter to spare you the necessity of confining your ideas to yourself and me. If you think me more prudent or rather more rational than formerly resolve the difficulty thus. Now I am using the language of my own heart Then I was learning that of yours Here I am Jane Welsh— In Edinr I was Mr Carlyle's Pupil [underscored twice]—Your sincere Friend— J. B. Welsh